Tasting Wines from New Mexico Wine Country
By: Linda Kissam
I don’t think New Mexico comes to the top of mind when talking about wines, wine country or top tier wines. Too bad, it should. I just finished tasting eight wines (reds, whites, dessert) from New Mexico with six other writers and I did not notice a whole lot of spitting or dumping going on. I did notice a whole lot of ooh’s and ah’s emanating from the group of seven wine writers.
New Mexico wine country has wineries spread across the entire state of New Mexico. Yup, that includes areas from Farmington New Mexico and Aztec to Albuquerque and Deming. About 27 wineries in all showcasing character, passion, terroir and palate.
New Mexico has been a producer of grapes for well over 400 years starting with the mission grapes brought by Spanish Colonists. The Colonists were Monks needing wine for their daily mass which lead them to plant a variety of wine grapes. That was the start of a good thing for us.
As with all wine regions, young or old, there is a learning process. What “needed” to be planted for religious purposes doesn’t always make a commercially viable or customer friendly wine. Viticulturists tweak and nurture, coax and cajole vines to do their best. Winemakers exert time talent and energy helping the fruit give the best wine possible. Some varietals and resulting wine make the grade, some not so much.
What results after all of this hard work is a selection of varietals and blends that experts decide work for a region; and then the race is on to convince the paying consumer and tourist to pay attention.
I like the fact that all of New Mexico wineries are currently family owned and operated. There’s something reassuring about that. It’s a personal investment that I honor. Of course honor only goes so far. If the wine sucks, all bets are off.
For this tasting there’s a big shout out to winemakers and vintners of New Mexico wine country. The bet is on that New Mexico wines are a serious contender for consumer’s time and dollars. Give them a try. I think you’re going to be surprised and delighted to find smooth, food friendly, complex wines with reds showing with a hint of tannins, dark fruit and a promise to improve with age and whites that are cool, sassy and well made just as well as any of the bigger names and places.
Vivác Winery 2013 Riesling: $18
This medium bodied 100% Riesling with a hint of sweetness set the benchmark of good taste for the evening. Who would believe a New Mexico wine would be made like a German Kabinett Riesling? Not me. It turns out to be a perfect wine for dry wine drinkers as well as those that like something a touch sweeter. I liked the slight melon and honey overtones, but the mineral finish had me at first sip. Food Pairing: Chorizo Chicken Polenta (Sloppy Jose’s) from wine writer and food diva Linda Stewart rocked out world. My favorite pairing of the evening.
Guadalupe Vineyards 2011 Gewurztraminer: $30
Another surprise was this Gewurztraminer presenting a spicy, fruity rich nose of roses, apricot and slight clove. This wine will pair well at a brunch serving spicy dishes such as Chiles Rellenos, corn chowder, or as a cool accompaniment to assorted appetizers. Food Pairing: Green chili and spinach quiche with white New Mexico cheese, adapted from Georgia O’Keefe’s original recipe prepared by our official wine and food photographer, Todd Montgomery.
La Chiripada Vintners’ Reserve Red 2010: $24
This is a Vintners’ Reserve Red blend of Tempranillo and Ruby Cabernet aged in Hungarian Oak casks for about 12 months. Ripe red fruit aromas give an elegant showcase to a dry, fruit forward, medium-bodied red. Need a fabulous choice with Southwest, Asian or Mexican red chile loaded dishes? This is it, trust me. Food Pairing: New Mexico Green Chili Corn Chowder by our newer travel writer member Karsten Boone. The boy knows how to cook. Great pairing. This wine came in second in the top three vote.
Vivác Winery Cabernet Sauvignon: $21
A dense Cab rich somewhat more versatile than some heavy California Cabs. Still powerful, just not shouting its attributes of ripe berry, sweet spices and endearing herbal notes. Rich fruit palate with lots of delicacy. Food Pairing: New Mexico Green Chili Corn Chowder.
Casa Abril 2012 Malbec: $32
The writer’s voted this as their number one choice. Estate grown fruit producing a spicy, fruity wine true to the Malbec grape from start to finish. Tangible earthy hints of spice and currants ending with dark chocolate and Mexican mole notes. Food Pairing: Artichoke and Olive Sausage. A spicy food pairing to remember.
Vivác Winery 2009 Divino: $32
This is a lighter red that comes into its own when matched with chocolate. Hints of dark berry & sweet spices, integrates in a nice, but not memorable red wine blend. Food Pairing: A variety of cheesecakes with fruit and chocolate provided by our host Susan Montgomery.
Vivác Winery 2009 DiaVolo: (Carol)
This wine came in third place out of eight wines…that’s saying something for sure. The full bodied dry red wine presented bold dark fruit full with an agile structure. Seductive in many ways – especially with its perky paring of Beef Shish Kabob from the bubbly Carol Malin.
Black Mesa Winery Black Beauty (Chocolate Dessert Wine): $12.50
The winery shared this ditty with us, “A little sweetness, a little chocolate, a little naughty, could lead to dancing!” I am not sure about that but it was a lovely and unique dessert wine as we were still sitting in our seats when the tasting ended.
Black Beauty is not so much of a port-style dessert wine as it is a red wine infused with a chocolate flavoring enhancing the natural chocolate notes of the wine. Food Pairing: I provided Merlot BellaVitano Cheese Bites (rich creamy cheese infused with the berry and plum notes of Merlot, piled tastefully on a water cracker with fig jam, a bite of decadent chocolate and a tiny crisp green apple slice).
Life is good. Think New Mexico wines.
You can thank me later.